STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
SAN ANTONIO — In less than three minutes, the Llano High School football team’s apparent playoff victory turned into defeat Nov. 17.
The Yellow Jackets (5-6, 2-2 District 13-4A Division II) lost 20-14 to Crystal City (9-2, 4-1 District 14-4A Division II) in a bi-district matchup.
Llano led 14-6 with three minutes left in the contest, but Javelinas receiver Felix Blanco, who scored all three touchdown passes, made great catches in perfect coverages to secure his team’s win.
“We changed our coverage to try to guard him,” Llano head coach Matt Green said. “Give the kid credit.”
Crystal City tied the game at 14-14 when Blanco caught an 82-yard touchdown pass then a two-point pass from quarterback John Saucedo on third-and-24 with 2:05 remaining.
“We’re in perfect position to make a play,” Green said. “I know (my defensive back) would love to have that one back. One play didn’t cost us the game.”
On Crystal City’s next possession, Blanco stopped to wait for a pass then turned and ran 24 yards for the game-winner with 12 seconds left in the contest. A two-point run failed.
Earlier, it looked like Llano had secured the win when junior quarterback Cade Fly found senior running back Ben Walling for a 20-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone with Walling outleaping the defender for a 14-6 lead with 3:44 left in the game.
Green said he called the play figuring the Javelinas would get lost in coverage.
He added Walling hadn’t practiced that route more than once.
“He said, Coach, I’ll do it,'” Green said.
As he watched Llano score, Crystal City head coach David Lopez wasn’t worried.The reason was because of how his players reacted when a teammate left the field on a stretcher. He said his players huddled and reminded each other they were brothers.
“I still felt we were going to be OK,” he said. “Even after Llano scored on the next play, I still felt like we were going to be OK.”
After the game, Lopez said the player would be fine and the stretcher was just a precaution.
With 10 minutes left in the game, Llano junior receiver Brooks Keele caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Fly to give the Jackets a 7-6 lead over Crystal City.
Green said the Jackets were finally able to connect on an explosive play after trying for most of the game.
After Llano fumbled on its opening possession, Blanco caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Saucedo. A bad snap on the extra point attempt kept the score 6-0 early in the first quarter, which stood throughout the first half.
The Yellow Jackets had four other offensive possessions that ended with a turnover on downs, two punts, and the end of the first half.
The Llano defense kept the Javelina run game contained. Crystal City, which was averaging about 200 rushing yards a game, was held to 14 yards in the first half, unofficially. In all, Crystal City had 82 yards rushing for the contest, unofficially.
Blanco finished with 150 yards and three scores on three catches, while Saucedo completed five of 13 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns, all unofficial.
“Our kids held and held and held,” Green said. “In the end, (Crystal City) made a couple more huge plays, and we didn’t.”
Llano senior running back Mason Greenwood had 100 yards on nine carries, while Keele had 122 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Fly completed 11 of 23 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, all unofficial.
Green noted a freshman and a sophomore started for Llano, adding the underclassmen physically still need to grow and the atmosphere was more intense because of the playoffs.
The coach believes the outcome of this season will motivate returners the next few months. He pointed out that several underclassmen chose to put on full pads and uniforms knowing the chances of playing were slim to none.
“They should hold their heads high,” Green said. “They battled and gave everything they had. You learn you’re never out of a game until it’s over. Kids are resilient. They’re going to bounce back from this.”